The real Eugene Peterson

Many of my LGBTQ friends and clergy sisters have disavowed Peterson’s writings. Not I.

During my first year of ministry I happened upon a copy of Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Until then, I had only heard of Eugene Peterson in the context of The Message, which I regarded with a hermeneutic of condescension. His spiritual theology was a revelation, and discovering it during my first terrifying year of ministry was a gift. Then, just as I was about to burn out, I spent a week with Peterson at the Collegeville Institute. That time with Peterson salvaged my vocation and renewed my courage.

It made sense, then, during a midcareer sabbatical grounded in Peterson’s wisdom, to apply for one of the doctor of ministry cohorts facilitated through the new Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination at Western Theological Seminary—a program that Winn Collier leads. That Collier’s biography of Peterson and an acceptance letter to the doctoral program fell into my lap around the same time is fitting. Peterson always shows up when I need him, even posthumously.

Despite Peterson’s broad popularity among both mainline and evangelical Christians (even Bono is a fan), my own colleague network is notably lacking in fellow enthusiasts. Indeed, many of my clergy sisters and LGTBQ friends actively disavow his oeuvre. Peterson wasn’t exactly a feminist figure; he practiced and preached an approach to pastoral work and sabbath rest seemingly dependent on the unpaid labor of a stay-at-home wife. And though he refused to use the word homosexual in his paraphrasic translation of scripture and despised homophobic bigotry perpetrated by the church, he was so averse to conflict he avoided public comments on same-sex marriage.